We talked to Dr Victoria Armstrong, who is our CEO…

What led you to Disability North, and how long have you been here?

I completed a degree in law in 2004 and have worked in the charitable sector ever since. I started my career providing benefits and community care advice to those who qualified for legal aid. I have worked for regional and national organisations at varying levels of seniority as my career developed. During this time I grew interested in better informing policy on the issues disabled people and people experiencing mental ill-health faced. I completed a PhD in applied social sciences at Durham University in 2015. Whilst undertaking my PhD I also worked as a freelance consultant for the sector, to help them evidence their impact and develop their organisation. When the CEO role was advertised at Disability North, I felt it was a good way to use my skills and experience in one place. I have been CEO of Disability North since 2016.

Can you describe an average day?

There is no such thing as an average day but it certainly involves lots of meetings with various people. That could be with the people we support, our excellent staff, other charities, businesses, academics engaged in research, or people involved in commissioning services and informing policy. I work both regionally and nationally. I also do a lot of bid writing to ensure the services we provide are well funded and can continue to meet the needs of the people we support.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

Probably the variety of the role but mainly I enjoy knowing the positive difference the organisation makes to people’s lives.

What would make your job easier?

More sustainable funding for the sector. I would like better awareness of disability so that non-disabled people can be more inclusive. That can be in the design of goods and services, or policy, or just in day to day life.

What do you wish people knew about the people you work with?

Disabled people come from all walks of life with their own individual set of skills and experiences. However, when people face health conditions which can impair their day-to-day lives, they often have to seek guidance from organisations such as Disability North. They have to dig deep within themselves to overcome barriers many non-disabled people do not encounter. I think these experiences, positive or negative, really demonstrate a richness that not everyone appreciates or takes into consideration.

This week, we had a chat with Vici Richardson, who is our Community Care and Personalisation Manager.

What led you to Disability North, and how long have you been here?

I guess what really led me to Disability North was my son. He is now 19 but when he was two he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Up until then I had been a Children’s Services Manager for a local childcare company. When he was diagnosed it totally turned my world upside down and changed my direction in terms of work and outlook. I left the world of childcare and went to work as a fundraiser for a national Duchenne charity and then ended up as their National Campaigns and Advocacy Manager. However, with two young children the travelling became too much and I needed a change to something that would work with my family. I saw this job advertised and it really appealed to me. I loved what Disability North stood for although I knew very little about Direct Payments- I had to do a lot of research in order to put together a power point presentation. It was a huge risk I was taking as it was initially a 12-month contract, but here I am 12 years on.  I now know a lot more about Direct Payments and as well as advising others. I also have 10 years lived experience managing a team of Personal Assistants on behalf of my son. 

Can you describe an average day?

There is no average day, that’s what I love about the job. Every day brings something different. 

But usually I spend the day talking to people, whether that is via email, phone or in person. 

A large part of my role is supporting people who have a Direct Payment and employ Personal Assistants, so I may spend a couple of hours supporting someone to put in place a really good advert and job description for example. Then a call may come in from someone who is having some challenges with their support; maybe something isn’t working out with their PA and I am there to advise and talk through the issues. 

I also provide Community Care advice; calls or emails that come in range from support with a disability related expenditure form, to someone wanting to challenge a decision that has been made about their support. 

Then there are the not so average days which include focus groups with the Health Minister! 

Because I manage the Community Care and Personalisation team I also spend time supporting the rest of the team. The best days are Thursdays when we are all in the office and Beth brings in cake! 

What is your favourite thing about your job?

The people!

I also love seeing the difference what we do makes and I love seeing individuals confidence grow in employing their own support. 

Recently we have done a lot of work on Care charges with individuals and have successfully supported people to ensure that their disability related expenditure is taken into account in the charge that they pay. That has been a really positive part of the job.

The best thing is seeing the difference good support can make to someone and when their support is really tailored to what they need to live a good life

 What would make your job easier?

More time and more value put on a living a good life rather than just existing. More value placed on the role of a Personal Assistant.

A lot of our frustrations at the moment are with recruitment. If I could magic up more good PAs that would be great – but failing that if the pay and conditions were improved that would certainly help. There seems to have been such a backward step in self-directed support, direct payments and the value of choice and control: that makes the job role harder and more frustrating for my team, but it makes life so much harder for those who draw on social care . 

 What do you wish people knew about the people you work with?

Sometimes I wish people could see the utter frustration the people I work with have with systems and processes. I wish people could see the effect that system failure has on people and how the things that we often take for granted are just not available to them.

 I also wish people could see the difference good support makes in an individuals life. 

The people I work with and support are amazing: I have known a lot of them now for a number of years it does feel like a big family sometimes.

Thanks Vici! If you are having any problems with Direct Payments, Personal Assistance or your Community Care, please give us a call on 0191 248 0480 or email: reception@disabilitynorth.org.uk.